"What is that?" Ty Lee asked Xex, who had been snoozing fitfully in the cool morning light. Xex grinned internally, Ty Lee was so curious. It was a good trait he thought, "That, Ty Lee, is a Kimarehto blood wok. Tonight, when Lord Lycaon gives the order, the fire sorcerers we have selected will be executed and hung from those hooks over the wok so that their blood will fall down into the wok. Then we will stir the blood and our warriors will drink from it, gaining the power of fire when they do so."
Ty Lee cringed at the blunt callous tone of Xex's indifferent explanation, no not even indifferent, she thought. He relished the idea. "How many?" Ty Lee asked. Xex shrugged, "As many as we need to fill the wok." Ty Lee flinched. The wok was huge! It was easily the size of a small house. The hooks Xex said the firebenders would be hung from dangled from cables suspended between four immense metal towers, each one as tall as any tree Ty Lee had ever seen.
"Why?" Ty Lee asked. Xex raised his head to look at her, "Why what?" "Why do you have to kill so many?" Ty Lee asked quietly. Xex tilted his head, "I don't understand. Why wouldn't we kill them? The alternative is a life of slavery, and while they could certainly be useful slaves, their power will be far more useful than they will. Why wouldn't we take their power and save them a lifetime of servitude?"
Ty Lee couldn't think of an answer. She was too stunned by the coarse brutality of it all.
Lycaon stalked around the edge of the blood wok his scowling glare changing targets every few seconds as his mind writhed with impatience and irritation at the sun light burning his pupils. His workers swooped and ducked to avoid his gaze, almost as though pillars of steel stretched from his eyes forever outward, threatening to smash any who collided with them like gnats. His tail, long, slender and dexterous today, thrashed behind him as thoughts echoed around his mind.
Why had Azula been scared of the transformation? His tail snapped to the right like a whip. Would she be alright? The tail snapped back left fast as thought. No outsider had ever been granted Kimarehto blood before. The tail snapped out and struck the posterior of a slow moving subordinate, urging him to quicker action. What if it didn't take? Inhumanly powerful legs powered a massive jump into the hook cables.
Father was coming, everything had to be perfect. The tail wrapped around a cable like lightning as Lycaon hung upside down to inspect a hook. What would he say about Azula? Lycaon effortlessly flipped to another cable and effortlessly balanced atop it inspecting the hooks. Would he approve? He leapt skyward and grew wings, soaring over the camp. What if he didn't? A nervous aerial loop. Why did every thought pertain to her in some form or fashion? A frustrated arc of her beautiful flames.
Mya sat in Lycaon's shelter staring at the girl as she slept. What had 'Caon called her? Azula. That was her name. Mya sighed as she tried to see what about the girl had so caught her brother's eye. Every woman in Kimar swooned in the aura of his power, but he hadn't shown interest in finding a mate in nearly a hundred twelve moons! What about this girl had stood out to him?
She was certainly pretty, Mya thought. No excess fat, pretty face, long dark lustrous hair, and her eyes were a pleasant golden brown when they were open. But any Kimarehto woman could take a similar appearance at will. Mya could remember at least three instances of women, high ranking women no less, and one time even 'Zotz's sister Huitzil, a childhood friend of theirs and Mya's BEST friend, trying looks very similar to this girl's, and not even earning a second glance from 'Caon. Although admittedly Huitzil had managed to briefly seduce him once after a night of heavy drinking and festivities.
Maybe it was the red clothes, Mya thought, red wasn't a common color on Kimar. Then she immediately discarded the notion. Kyra, Jormund's niece, was a beautiful shade of crimson, and well known for her beauty, but the most interest 'Caon had ever shown in her had been the acknowledgment of her beauty and intelligence, despite some subtle hints of interest from her.
Maybe there was something about her blood Mya thought. 'Caon was known for being able to pick fine quality blood from poor. Mya leaned over Azula and began sniffing the various arteries 'Caon would've checked if he were looking for a drink. Wrist, neck, inner thigh, no, nothing unusual there except for his own blood, which Mya still couldn't believe he had given her. Maybe he had been drunk the night before? She hadn't been able to smell anything on him. Maybe he had been experimenting with foreign plants?
It couldn't be her sorcery Mya thought, 'Caon would have just taken that if it were what he wanted. Maybe he was impressed that she killed Gristle? Well certainly he was, Mya thought, he had said as much himself, but it sounded as though she had been receiving special treatment before that. It couldn't be that she was native royalty Mya thought. She knew how much respect 'Caon had for the titles of foreigners. The last so-called royal that had mouthed off to him had been cheerfully crippled and handed over to Gristle for an excruciating and surgically prolonged execution while her husband became the main course at the victory feast and her daughter was handed over to the captain that had led the charge as a reward.
A sudden thought crossed Mya's mind. "No way," she thought, "that can't be it." She leaned back down and sniffed Azula again before sitting back up with a surprised snort. The girl was completely untouched. That WAS a rarity, Mya thought. It didn't explain the whole thing Mya thought, but it was certainly a start. "Maybe she'll be more informative when she wakes up," Mya thought.
At sundown, Lycaon's howl brought his warriors scurrying from all corners of the camp. Lycaon was wearing his human form and bone armor. Mya stood beside him, wearing her human form as well and sporting the light armor she favored. Xex stood behind the first of the fire sorcerers, a special ceremonial steel blade in his hand identical to the ones in the hands of the other nine lieutenants.
Ty Lee had been shut inside her and Azula's shelter before Xex had made his way to the blood wok. Lord Lycaon had ordered him to keep her from harm; that included psychological harm. Contrary to Ty Lee's beliefs, Xex had picked up on the note of horror in her voice when she had been asking about the blood wok, and decided to spare her witnessing the Draining.
Lycaon raised his hands and silence fell amongst the assembled warriors. "My brothers! Warriors of the Ninth Legion! We have traveled long and hard to reach this land, our journey fraught with peril as the very sea itself turned against us! Now we shall take it for our own!" There was a unified roar of approval.
Mya stepped forth, "I have come straight from Kimar to tell you that King Kyvon himself will be journeying here with the full power of the Ten Legions. Tonight though, you, his fiercest and most valiant warriors, the vanguard of the Ninth Legion, will be the first to sample the power of fire!" The assembled warriors howled with excitement.
"We are the finest warriors Kimar has to offer," Lycaon thundered, "Tonight we feast on the blood of our enemies!" Another cheer, "Tomorrow, we strike and show them our power!" A roar of approval. Lycaon turned to his lieutenants, "Let the draining BEGIN!"
Quick as thought, Xex and the other lieutenants slit the fire sorcerers' throats in unison and leapt to hang them over the blood wok, the specially sharpened hooks easily puncturing the fire sorcerers' feet so that every drop of blood available would fall down into the steel wok, which was already turning crimson with blood.
Xex and the others turned and leapt back to the edge of the wok, butchering the chained fire sorcerers one at a time and leaping to hang them from the hooks, growing splattered with blood as they went. Xex lost track of how many throats he slit before the wok was full.
When finally he leapt to the edge from the hooks and found the edge full, he ran to his post at the base of the eastern tower, the other lieutenants quickly following suit, positioning themselves around the edges of the blood wok. Once they were all in position, with a howl they began the ritual movements that would stir the blood of the fire sorcerers into a mix that would empower every Kimarehto that partook of it with the power of ten fire sorcerers.
As the blood whirled ten times one way and ten more the other, Xex felt the blood already soaking his fur fuse with his blood, the power surging through him. Once the twentieth movement was complete, the twenty first movement launched the blood skyward. The blood fell like crimson rain, covering the assembled Kimarehto amid their exuberant cacophony.
Azula stepped out of the shelter, awakened by the cacophony and felt the drops of blood raining down. She held her hand out, instinctively knowing the blood for what it was as the warmth spread through her body from the points where it touched her skin and hair. A solitary tear trickled from her eye at the thought of so many of her people being slaughtered.
She pulled the door to the metal shelter she shared with Ty Lee open and slipped inside, "Ty Lee?" Ty Lee leapt to hug her, "Azula! You're alright!" Azula patted her on the back, "Of course I'm alright. Hang on, I'll get us some light." Ty Lee drew back and Azula raised a hand willing a small plume of fire into existence, "Whoa." Ty Lee stared at the flames in shock, "Azula? What did they do to you?" "I don't know," Azula said quietly as she stared at the flames dancing in her hand, no longer the comforting blue she was used to, they were now a stark, almost blinding white with only the barest traces of blue.